South Dakota State University English Professor Christine Stewart received the 2018 Whirling Prize in Poetry from Etchings Press for her book, “Bluewords Greening.” The theme for 2018 was disabilities.
In her book, Stewart, who writes as Stewart-Nunez, describes her experiences as a woman coping with miscarriages and as a mother raising a child with disabilities. “Bluewords Greening,” which was published by Terrapin Books in 2016, is available on Amazon.com.
Stewart will receive a $500 honorarium and 25 copies of a broadside, currently being designed by UIndy’s Hullabaloo Press student artists. In addition, Stewart will be part of a March episode of The Potluck Podcast: Ulndy & the Arts.
Lynn Sargeant, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, said, “This is such a wonderful honor, especially because it is student-driven.” Etchings Press is a student-run University of Indianapolis publisher.
Stewart agreed: “The professor and a group of advanced students make the choice. The students gave me feedback on why they chose my book—that’s something you don’t usually get.”
Etchings Literary and Fine Arts Magazine Editor Sara Perkins called Stewart’s book “a wonderful collection that gives the reader an intimate account of disability and the emotions associated with it.”
Senior Kara Wagner, who has served as a Whirling Prize judge for three years, said Stewart’s voice “deserves to be heard both in and out of the disability literature circle … As I turn the pages, I feel her helplessness, I mourn her losses.”
In describing her writing, Stewart said, “On one level, you don’t choose what to write about, it chooses you. These are poems that I had to write. The choice to send them out to the world in a book is a different decision.”
She recalled occasions when she shared poems about her miscarriages. “Often women would thank me because they had gone through something similar or knew someone who had—it’s a very taboo subject. I feel sharing my narrative invites others to share theirs and sometimes that is beneficial to people.”
Stewart defines disability as “when people must move through a world not designed for them, both physically and narratively. When I was having miscarriages, it was a temporary disability. I saw everyone having babies who wanted to have babies, so I did not see my issues reflected. The more miscarriages I had, the more odd I became—but that sense went away,” she said.
However, the scenario is different for Stewart’s son, Holden, who has a rare form of epilepsy known as Landau-Kleffner Syndrome.
“Holden will always move in a world that is not designed for him,” she said. “If he has a temper tantrum, meltdown or seizure when we are out in public, not many people know how to interact with that. We are always strategizing … and the book speaks to that.”
However, she also pointed out, “There won’t be many people who raise a kid like Holden, but there are a lot of people who raise kids that have needs that are unlike those of other kids.”